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At what point does ordinary childish horseplay become bullying?

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A child bullied to death is a horrible thing. The bullies are usually children themselves, too young to be held legally accountable. But whatever lessons are legally teachable should be taught, and harshly – and if financial compensation can be extracted from bullies’ families, so much the better. That probably sums up the general feeling.

In September 2014, a 14-year-old Sendai boy committed suicide. He left no note. Bullying was the assumed cause, and the city-administered junior high school where the boy was a first-year student launched an investigation. Eleven boys were requested by school authorities to provide background information.

One of the 11 was a boy whom Shukan Josei, in its coverage, calls “Ryota.” He’d been a friend of the dead boy – “he cried when he heard the news,” his mother tells the magazine – and he readily agreed to cooperate. Later, Ryota’s family learned that the school grouped its witnesses into three categories: “perpetrator,” “victim” and “uninvolved.” The victim of course was the deceased. Ryota found himself labeled a “perpetrator.”

The information he gave, as summarized by Shukan Josei, describes a mild exchange of teasing such as all school kids inflict and suffer. They called each other names, and laughed at each other. No, said Ryota, he had never called the deceased a “pervert.” Apparently someone did.

Ryota’s life has been turned upside down. He has high school entrance exams to study for, but his concentration is shot. It’s not even clear whether he’ll be able to enter a school in his neighborhood – or continue to live in it, for that matter. Once you’ve been dubbed a “perpetrator,” the image sticks to you.

“School is definitely no fun anymore,” he says ruefully. “I only go at all because if I stay away, people will say I’m guilty.”

The school set up a special commission to look into the affair. It concluded that while there had been teasing, which perhaps the school should have taken steps to tone down, it amounted to nothing systematic or malicious enough to be called bullying.

The dead boy’s family was not satisfied. The school had been negligent, they felt, and the children involved, now narrowed down from 11 to seven, had not even apologized. They requested court mediation, which began in February and ended in June – inconclusively. The seven children persisted in denying they’d done anything that qualifies as bullying, and the school disclaimed responsibility. The bereaved parents immediately filed a civil suit, demanding 55 million yen in compensation.

Court proceedings will grind on for some time. “If this is their whole case,” Shukan Josei quotes Ryota’s lawyer as saying, “We can’t lose.” But until they win – if they win – Ryota and the other boys are in for a rough ride. If they’re guilty, the rougher the better, we might say. But if they’re not?

© Japan Today

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Later, Ryota’s family learned that the school grouped its witnesses into three categories: “perpetrator,” “victim” and “uninvolved.”

The school is now guilty of doing the exact same thing that they are trying to eradicate, bullying.

They are bullying the innocent one's by labeling them, and they should be held accountable for it!

0 ( +3 / -3 )

At what point does ordinary childish horseplay become bullying?

Horseplay is mutual. With bullying there's a victim

9 ( +11 / -2 )

horsing around -> monkekying around -> rollicking -> goofing off -> playing jokes on -> roughhousing -> bullying

Did I miss a step?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Did I miss a step?

Most sadly in this case yes.....suicide. Doesn't matter what the steps are, and like sensei wrote with bullying there is a victim.

The boys in the case who were labeled as predators, just very well may be predators, but because of the nature of the system here don't realize that their actions may have been the very cause of the other boy committing suicide.

But then again, and in the parents grief, they are looking for answers to a question that can not be answered. The parents are looking for someone to take responsibility and with their lawyers are looking to point their fingers at someone to vent all their frustration and anger.

It MAY have been horseplay, but to the parents, they will never acknowledge that their son killed himself for possibly some other reason.

Everyone wants to take the parents side, so do I, but I dont think the school was right to label these boys either.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

It's hard to say. Some kids are more sensitive, and when you throw in the hormone imbalances of puberty, can have major mood swings in one way or the other. Maybe someone called him a hentai (pervert) as a joke, which on one day could be taken by the recipient as teasing, and on another day be taken as an affront that can no longer be lived with.

If you stop kids from playing around at all, you end up with a weak generation that cannot handle criticism and feedback, entirely unprepared for the real world. If you let them play around however, you can end up with incidents like this.

There's no easy solution.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

There's no easy solution.

No, there isn't. Bullying is a fascinatingly insidious and unbelievably difficult behavioural trait to manage in adolescents. And lets not forget that for some people it's inherently part of their character makeup as adults as well (Trump anyone?)

Whilst kids often know bullying is wrong, and that the adults around them (including their teachers) expect them to refrain from doing so, they are very, very skilled at choosing their moments. Social media has opened up a whole new platform for them to do it largely out of sight of adults altogether, and they are drawn to it like moths to a flame. A lot of this happens outside of school hours of course, but schools are increasingly having to try to wade through this pond scum world to try to figure out and manage what is really going on.

Some kids are also hyper sensitive to the regular banter that flies around schoolyards, and whilst they themselves are happy to participate and dish it out, they crumble and cry foul when it comes their way. Some kids, are just slightly different and become prime targets.

As a whole, I think kids these days worldwide are much more attuned to what bullying is, what it looks like and what to do if they are being bullied. I went to school in the late 80's and when I think back I experienced a lot of stuff as general banter and horseplay that these days would be well and truly targeted as bulling. It was tough, and there wasn't really any protection, and I think the general changes are very positive.

But I don't know much about the mechanics of it in Japanese schools apart from a few anecdotal stories. Seems like it still has a long way to catch up.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

When you try hurt another.

Don't ignore it. Correct it.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The general need to conform and be accepted in a group has its plus and minuses. And I agree that there are people who are more sensitive than the others. It is just sad why the victim wasn't able to open up with his parents or teachers on what was troubling him. And sadder when the option the victim choose to end his problem is simply to end his life. I've underwent a series of troubling life yet I never thought of suicide as I believe tomorrow will be a better day. Maybe, it's true that some people now are emotionally weak. They don't know how to handle handle stresses. Either they lash it out on someone else or do harm to themselves.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

the school grouped its witnesses into three categories: “perpetrator,” “victim” and

half expecting to see "rescuer" here...

“uninvolved”

See/Hear/Speak No Evil monkeys?

4 ( +5 / -1 )

IowanOCT. 16, 2016 - 11:30AM JST When you try hurt another. [...]Don't ignore it. Correct it.

A good start on a definition, but I don't think framing it in terms of the intent of the perpetrator is the right way to go about it. Intent is dubious to verify anyway, but it may well be that a person who is bullying doesn't realize they're doing it. I think the best definition is sensei258 above:

sensei258 OCT. 16, 2016 - 08:05AM JST Horseplay is mutual. With bullying there's a victim

As sensei258 succinctly explains, if it's happening to someone who doesn't want it to happen, it's bullying. The trouble is, adolescence and Japanese socialization both put huge pressure to conform, so there's lots of pressure on victims of bullying to pretend they consent to being bullied. Aside from teaching students to be more confident and outspoken, I don't know of anything anyone can do to improve the situation other than somehow train teachers to be aware of what may be unspoken in their students' interactions. That's a hairy fix that's not going to solve the problem though.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Adolescence is generally a period of tremendous conformity to the group - a desire to be approved of by the group, and so one of the real challenges is trying to empower young people to reject bullying as a group or a majority.

Interestingly, one of humanities greatest tools for success and prosperity has been to band together in times of threat as a coalition of the weak. We tend to resist, reject and ultimately destroy tyrannical behaviour (there are of course, exceptions). The trick with kids is to encourage them AWAY from the powerful or dominant personalities that might incite or initiate bullying, especially as their alliance with this can be a personal survival mechanism. So you are asking the group needs to uphold an ideal that does not necessarily come naturally to it, and hasn't done for most of our existence.

However, it is entirely possible with the right school culture. But that culture has to exist all the way through a school and be upheld at every level of it.

Some are much better at it than others.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

At the risk of my post being removed, it is not just the fault of the ones doing the bullying. It is also the fault of the ones being bullied. Japanese society is based on a strict hierarchical structure and has been for many centuries. This structure is prevalent throughout the whole society from kindergarten to big business. There is always a 'sempai' who is older and more powerful that tells you what to do. If you are of the weaker class you will spend your whole life being bullied because, if you fight back you are labelled a troublemaker and never given opportunities again. "The nail that stands up must be hammered down!" These kids that feel they have no other choice than to kill themselves are victims of this system. They cannot seek help from the teachers or parents because they are labeled troublemakers and they do not have the emotional strength to fight back or endure it by themselves. Bullying, intimidation and thuggery are just part of Japanese culture. Many parents are just thugs. I can't count the amount of times I've seen parents lash out at kids in public. Smacking them across the face or on top of the head, pushing them over, pinching them and disgustingly cold verbal abuse. I see it every day! These groups of high school bullies and punks come from these kinds of families. Japan needs to stop focussing on the bully and punk problem and look at what is causing this problem. Children are products of their environment. Bad parenting creates bad kids. It's as simple as that. There is also the issue of work/life balance for parents. Many of these kids only see their fathers for a few hours on the weekends, if they see him at all. They virtually grow up orphans and their school is their orphanage with teachers being proxy parents. They grow up in a school with virtually no discipline and consequences for their punk behaviour. Why is anybody surprised so many of the weaker ones kill themselves? I'm not surprised by it at all! However, I am surprised that the Japanese government has no flipping idea why so many kids are killing themselves. They need to look at the home life of those doing the bullying and of those being bullied into suicide.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

Japanese bullying is way different to Western bullying. Just being excluded from daily banter, or being singled out in any way as not conformist can make the lives of these children a misery. In the West if someone calls you a pervert, you can laugh it off, you can go along with it to big yourself up as the go to guy for sex advise, but in Japan, that could ruin your chance of confessing to the girl you like and has a totally different social context. When you’re older, it does not matter so much. It should also be noted that Japanese remain a child for far longer than Western children and I have know 22 year old Japanese males to be quite immature in many ways while outwardly looking like adults. So I would say, in Japan there is no such thing as horseplay, it is all power play to establish and preserve the social hierarchy and if you’re on the bottom, that is going to suck.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

In September 2014, a 14-year-old Sendai boy committed suicide. He left no note. Bullying was the assumed cause, and the city-administered junior high school where the boy was a first-year student launched an investigation.

So the boy had only been at the school for a term?

Definitely something else going on here.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

I was physically bullied at school so I have no sympathy at all with anyone caught do it. To some it's horseplay, boys being boys, but when that 'horseplay' results in strangulation with rafia, near drowning in swimming classes, punched in the face so stitches needed in the lip and bangers set off in a coat hood... well, if that's horseplay then I'm Godzilla.

It hasn't turned me into a bully, quite the opposite... for a long time it made me afraid to make friends, made me timid. 30-odd years after I left school and I'm still remembering the suffering I had to put up with for 4 years. Why? My accent... pure and simple. You talk differently from your peers and you're marked out as a target.

So whenever I read about school or company bullying I get rather annoyed and upset that people are committing suicide. It's not something I thought about at the time... maybe I had a family that sympathised with me. I feel so sorry that these kids don't have anyone to turn to stop the bullying... it breaks my heart.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

For god's sake, dump the TV mums and dads!

Get into communication with your children. That would fix the problem right there!

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

I think that there is one thing that everyone has overlooked. It's assumed that the child took his life because of being bullied but where's the proof of that? While bullying is certainly a huge problem in Japan, isn't it possible that the boy had another reason? In my youth I knew several kids who were suicidal and their reasons were not because of bullying. The reasons are often distorted views and even seemingly minor to someone else.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@BertiWooster... that is a very simplistic way of dealing with the problem.. and I suspect that it will not be an effective answer.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Conflict resolution educational practices: create peer mediation and restorative justice programs. Punitive action is a dumb hammer. And it does nothing for the future or the school community. When will they ever learn? Maybe never. These problems can be tackled if people abandon business as usual. I'm not holding my breath for Japanese schools. I wouldn't send a child into one anyway.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

We need to teach self-esteem so that people just brush off the words people call them. If it gets physical, its assault.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

If you stop kids from playing around at all, you end up with a weak generation that cannot handle criticism and feedback, entirely unprepared for the real world.

I'm all for firmness but im sure you've heard of the give an inch adage right? Making someone feel less appreciative of their self worth does in no way constitute playing around. Get real.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I'm all for firmness but im sure you've heard of the give an inch adage right? Making someone feel less appreciative of their self worth does in no way constitute playing around. Get real.

Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't realize you were never a child. Let me explain it to you. See, children play to various degrees, sometimes ribbing each other, sometimes being rough. It's part of being a child, learning boundaries, how to deal with difficult situations, conflict resolution and things like that. The problem is that sometimes the ribbing crosses over to cruelty, or the roughhousing sometimes goes from rough to violent. Other times what is ribbing one day and taken as such by a child may then be taken in a more sensitive manner by the same kid the next day, depending on their mood. There is no clear delineation, which makes it extremely difficult to control from the outside.

The only way to completely ensure that ribbing never turns or is taken as cruel, is to entirely disallow it. And the only way to ensure roughhousing never turns violent or is taken as such is to entirely disallow it. But that comes at a cost - kids don't learn how to deal with difficult social situations or conflict resolution, leaving them less able to effectively deal with the world.

I have no idea what you thought about my post was 'firmness'.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@Strangerland I agree there's no easy solution. From what I hear, school is not only a waste of time - students need cram schools if they want to improve there academic abilities - but it's also a hell for teachers as well as students. The primary school teachers I know describe it as pretty horrible job, only with some good benefits. People throw away the best years of their lives persevering because that's "normal." So, the style of the institution is unproductive and severe to begin with. There are conflict school resolution programs working around the world. However, they can not be done half-way. I fear they are not possible a system that is designed to be relentless and train kids in a particular sociality. Still, perhaps there's a way to introduce some new ideas. I only wish one could be experimental in Japan. I fear experimenting is disallowed by rigid regulations and rigid thinking. I guess the only solution is private school - if you have the cash.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

The only way to completely ensure that ribbing never turns or is taken as cruel, is to entirely disallow it. And the only way to ensure roughhousing never turns violent or is taken as such is to entirely disallow it.

Exactly!!

But that comes at a cost - kids don't learn how to deal with difficult social situations or conflict resolution, leaving them less able to effectively deal with the world.

That job is up to great parenting. Only.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

That job is up to great parenting. Only.

Great parenting means letting your children make mistakes. It means letting them lose sometimes. It means letting them get the experience they need to be able to live in the world without you when they get old enough to do so.

Disallowing all roughhousing and ribbing doesn't let kids learn any of that. Helicopter parenting is breeding a generation of kids who cannot handle criticism, who cannot handle losing, who cannot handle anything negative. The collapse when it happens. They are weak, and they only have their parents to blame for it.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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